Tag Archives: art & tech

Elementary Electronics – Sewn LED bracelet

As part of our homeschool elementary electronics class, the kids wanted to finish up the class by making soft circuits, especially a sewn LED bracelet.

And I do mean kids because I specifically asked them – after the sewn flashlight difficulties if they were up to another round of sewing. They said yes. In fact, one fifth grader (who struggled a little with the sewing) said, “Well – I don’t know how to do it and that’s the point of learning, right? To try stuff you aren’t good at?” Oh, you could have melted my growth mindset heart!

A picture of three electronic bracelets.

Our family’s collection of hand-sewn LED bracelets.

After the success of the Chibitronics paper LED project, I knew this sewing design had to be more concrete and guided. A couple of hours (and one failed prototype) later), I had a structured lesson to present to the kids the next day.

Sewn LED Bracelet – Paper Prototype

I started by making a paper prototype. This way they could cut it out and see how their bracelet would fit together. The components would have to be placed a certain way so the bracelet could close and you could still see the LED. I also wanted to make it so that when they snapped it closed, the circuit closed and the LED lit up.

Hand-drawn paper prototype to give the kids a guide.

It was definitely helpful to have a paper guide for the students. So many of them wanted to jump ahead and try and figure it out – and that was okay. It was okay when we had to pull out their conductive thread because the circuit wouldn’t make any sense. Hopefully, those were learning moments for them. Mistakes always force us to look at the structure a little more carefully.

Hot glue guns help to move the project along.

Sewn LED bracelet – Process

My younger son and I had made his LED bracelet the night before class – for two reasons. First, I knew that I would need to help the other students and since he’s seven, he would need a lot of help. Second, I wanted to have a simple, finished product so the students could see how the circuits connected.

After everyone chose their LED and figured out how their battery pack worked, I brought them over – one-by-one-  to the hot gluing station. I glued their battery holder and snaps to the felt. This made it much easier for these elementary students to focus on sewing – without having to worry about pins keeping those components in place.

The hardest part was understanding how the battery would be connected to the LED. Since LEDs have be positioned a certain way (positive to positive), I went around to each student and made sure they would line up their LED correctly. They eventually figured it out and even though this class took an hour and a half – every single bracelet connected correctly. And they were so proud (and relieved?) that it lit up after all of their hard work.

Here’s the PDF Sewn LED bracelet (PDF) handout that I created for my students. If you are teacher, please feel free to use it, but do not reproduce or sell it without gaining permission. Thanks!

 

 

Elementary Electronics – Chibitronics LED Stickers

It’s my turn to teach (again) with our small homeschool co-op, and this semester I offered to teach elementary electronics. Everyone (parents and students) seemed interested and I finally had a chance to use my electronic art skills. My circuit knowledge has been growing a little rusty since last year’s Space Camp.

R’s modified Chibitronics robot.

Upper Elementary Electronics Class

Since I designed the curriculum, I chose to focus on circuits and how to use them (as much as possible) with art. Don’t worry – we still called the class “elementary electronics.” Each session was roughly an hour. The following is a general schedule of the course:

  • Week 1: Electricity vs. electronics
    • Intro video from Popular Mechanics for Kids (about 15 minutes worth).
    • Homework sheet to fill out using these two web sites (NAS and Explain That Stuff).
    • I wanted them to know that electricity = energy = secondary source
  • Week 2:B is for Battery” video from AdaFruit.
  • Week 3: Electricity is lazy.
    • Insulators vs. conductors experiment using circuit blocks to demonstrate;
    • The kids stripped some wire – just for fun
  • Week 4:D is for Diode” video from AdaFruit.
  • Week 5: Parallel vs. series circuits, video
  • Week 6: LED Chibitronics sticker art (see pictures below).
  • Week 7: Reviewed parallel vs. series circuits.
    • I asked the kids to build a series and a parallel circuit from the circuit blocks.
    • They also took apart an old toy.
  • Week 8: Sewn Circuits: LED bracelet
  • Week 9: Field trip to ThemeWorks, Inc., a local business

Circuit Sticker Art

Throughout the course, the kids were willing to try new things and they only complained a little bit about the sewing (and not all of them, just a few). They played around with the circuit blocks, made some cool things and hopefully, learned the difference between an open and closed circuit.

When it came time to actually put together some circuits, I found they needed some simple, guided activities before moving on to freely creative exploits. Since we were using the Chibitronics circuit stickers to create parallel circuits, I wanted a little more direct instruction. (Those stickers aren’t cheap)! I printed out this Chibitronics template, and my oldest son and I both made a sample. He modified his a little – he traced the robot, but designed it himself – and I made a starry sky (see the photos above). We both used the provided guidelines for the parallel circuits (photo below).

The robot on the left used copper tape to connect the circuit stickers to the battery while the night sky used conductive ink.

Conductive Ink vs. Copper Tape

If you had asked me last year, I would have said copper tape was too difficult for elementary students. I would have argued that conductive ink pens are far superior for solder-free projects. Sadly, my son and I found that our ink pen wasn’t nearly as effective as the copper tape with adhesive glue. I wonder if Circuit Scribe changed their formula in the past six months? (We bought ours from Amazon). I’ve had great luck with them in the past, but my eleven-year-old could not get his Chibitronics stickers to light up. We ended up covering the ink with copper tape (and covering the stickers as well) – and voila! It worked! This is the tape we used.

Students used the lines provided in the template to lay out their copper tape.

Age Group Suggestions

Since we had guided lesson plans, this project was pretty easy for all of the members of our group. My younger son (age 7) needed some help from me, but was able to do most of the copper tape by himself. In addition to marking the positive and negative current flow, I also flattened the corners for him, however, he got a great kick out of decorating his robot and placing the circuit stickers.

a picture of a 2D robot that has a light up heart

C’s light-up robot

This project was a perfect capstone project for the upper age limits of our group (ten-and- eleven-year-olds). They could do it on their own and a couple of them modified their outer designs. If I were to do this class again, I would still do this project first. However, for the next class, I would challenge them to create paper prototypes using these stickers. They could apply their knowledge of parallel circuits in a whole new way.

After the students had made their projects and were proud of their own accomplishments, I showed them Jie Qi’s electrified Dandelion Painting. The kids (and adults) were appropriately impressed with her copper tape skills. Plus, they actually understood how it worked – and asked some very interesting questions.

 

 

Current Projects

Keeping Track of Projects

My husband and I tend to forget all of the really cool things we do – and work on – each year. We get caught up in the day-to-day activities of working, teaching children, worrying, making lunch (and dinner), cleaning the house (again) and shuttling kids to various activities. Like most people, we are often busy, so we need a little help remembering all of the unique things in our life. We are fortunate to experience new places  – and make a lot of cool stuff. Here’s what we’ve been working on lately:

Joe created a desktop (for me) from piece of plywood and trim. He' sitting it on a top of a re-purposed bookshelf (which he made years ago).

Joe created a desktop (for me) from piece of plywood and trim. It will sit on top of a re-purposed bookshelf. Oh yeah – he made the bookshelf years ago.

C (age 7) was so interested in the artist, Vincent Van Gogh that he created a 4-H project.

C (age 7) was so interested in the artist, Vincent Van Gogh, he created a 4-H project. Two weeks ago, he presented his project to a 4H judge. My shy, reserved son beamed when the judge praised his work.

R (age 11) wanted to submit another project for the 4-H non-livestock fair. This one is on his favorite architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

R (age 11) wanted to submit another project for the 4-H non-livestock fair. (He won a grand prize last year). This one is on his favorite architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

Liz has been developing her colored pencil skills. This drawing is based on an old penguin calendar we had years ago.

I have been developing my colored pencil skills. This drawing is based on an old penguin calendar we had; I used Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils.

Joe took our distressed, chipping dining table and stripped it. He then proceeded to sand, stain and lacquer it – repeatedly. It looks amazing.

Studying Van Gogh

The Artist Who Sparked His Interest :: Vincent Van Gogh

Recently, my youngest son is fascinated with art. He likes looking at paintings, talking about them and learning about the artists. He is drawing more, working through the “hard” parts and developing a growth mindset. 

In fact, after visiting the Morse Museum he returned to the hotel room, set himself up in front of the window and declared he was “doing art.” He didn’t end up drawing anything, but he did have an awesome view of the setting sun. I think that counts as observational skill-building!

I’d like to take credit for his interest, but Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings caught his eye. In November, we learned about Van Gogh; his life and paintings were fascinating and we gobbled up as many books about him as possible (Mike Venezia’s artist series is a favorite around here). However, I think the artist concept truly hit home when we started making our own impressionist art.  After learning about Van Gogh, we made oil pastel drawings of Starry Night.

a child's drawing of Van Gogh's Starry Night

C’s (age 7) recreation of Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh.

a child's depiction of Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night

R’s (age 10.5) recreation of Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

oil pastel recreation of Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night.

Liz’s recreation of Van Gogh’s Starry Night (using only 12 oil pastels).

Studying Master Artists

We’ve always taken the kids to museums and read books about artists. Last year, we studied Monet; a few of his paintings were on display at our local museum. For our family, it makes the experience much more valuable if the kids know something about the topic ahead of time. This is especially true for my older, more active child. If he is truly interested, he can wander in a museum for hours. If not, we’re done in thirty minutes!

For this project, we’ve been studying the “masters” with a guided curriculum. I purchased the first set of ‘Meet the Masters‘ lessons. So far, we’ve completed three out of five artists (Van Gogh, Monet, Cassat, Picasso, Mondrian), and the kids look forward to listening and learning new techniques. It has taken our art and art appreciation to the next level with just the right combination of art history and hands-on application. And no, I do not get paid to say that. We just like the curriculum.

I’m not too worried about stifling their creativity with a formal curriculum. We don’t follow it completely, but it does teach them techniques to apply to other art work. I see the value in copying master artists; my kids pay attention to the details and start to internalize the lessons of light, value and color. Then, they get to apply those same skills to their own art. Since they are confident in their skills, they are willing to spend more time drawing and experimenting. Thankfully, that means more art time for me too.

Following our interests – drawing

Evolution of a Drawing Parent

When I was pregnant I had dreams of all of the cool things I would do with my child. We would sit together and color, go for long walks and do a lot of drawing. All of the parents can see where this is headed, right? My first child was born and he hated to color; he refused to pick up any writing instrument. He wanted to build, destroy and take things apart. He was fascinated by machines, noisy toys and television. So, I quietly put away my own interests (art and drawing) for his interests. We bought him wood blocks and spent hours building. We jumped into legos and computers. We taught him to create with these things, rather than to passively consume them.

a picture of a kid's drawing

Drawn by R, age 11. We’ve done some prep work from the book, Drawing with Children.

Same Parents, Different Kids

A few years later, we added another son to our family.  He seemed quieter and more willing to pick up a pencil, but he was enthralled with his older brother’s antics. And so I waited. My older son showed an interest in drawing (around age 8) and my younger son (now age 7) is also showing a strong interest in drawing and art history. I can’t say that I am an especially patient person, but I am thrilled that their interests are finally dovetailing my own.

A picture of a kid drawing a skyscraper.

C, age 6, drawing an Atlanta building for the city project.

Drawing Instruction at Home

Four years ago, a friend turned us onto Mark Kistler’s online video lessons. Since we’re homeschoolers, we buy a yearly subscription through the Homeschool Buyers Co-op. The videos are separated by skill level and novice artists can stop the videos as much as they want. He takes the students step-by-step while infusing his lessons with the language of art. He speaks of perspective and shadowing. He addresses the importance of direction and the size of foreground objects. He does all of this while drawing – it’s his natural language and the students don’t realize they are picking up art terms. It gives them the confidence to add these elements to their own drawings.

a picture of a blob monster, drawn by a 7-year-old.

Drawn by C, age 7. Instruction by Mark Kistler.

Returning to Drawing

Although I incorporated art into our daily life anyway – it was to help the kids learn to love art – not really to increase my own drawing ability. During their younger years, I felt like I needed to become an expert educator/parent and so my art took a back seat for the past eleven years. But, after a little bit of soul-searching this past year (mid-life crisis, perhaps) and thanks to a few other resources (the book Essentialism, and the web site, Craftsy), I have brought art to the forefront of my life. I am drawing more and refining my ability. Thankfully, my kids are on board.

A picture of a hand-drawn, pencil drawing of a lily.

Drawn by Liz looking at a color picture of a lily.

 

Following his interests – Frank Lloyd Wright

My eldest child is quite the extrovert. His high energy levels fuel his interests and he takes to new ideas with a fierce passion. So, it’s not quite surprising that my “robot engineer” now wants to be an architect when he grows up. And who sparked this interest? Frank Lloyd Wright.

a picture of two lego houses made in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright

R’s take on Frank Lloyd Wright architecture.

Art and Architecture

After a particularly lucky day at our “Friends of the Library” sale, I brought home a kids’ book on Frank Lloyd Wright. He did some work in Florida and I thought it might be a fun side project for us. Not that I need an excuse to travel, but an “educational” trip is often easily justified.

He read through the book, found other relevant sources, and was well on his way to loving Frank Lloyd Wright. These books sparked some lego creations, a Minecraft structure and a deep desire to visit Falling Water.

Picture of inside of frank lloyd wright house in Minecraft

The interior of the Minecraft structure: this one was designed after Wright’s own home.

As I said before, his interests vary and you never know what might stick. Well…that was six months ago and while the intensity has chilled, the interest is still there. He recently spent hours pouring over a book about tiny homes, and we just discovered this book at our local library.  My younger son and I have also been absorbing information. We’re learning just as much about this very cool architect-artist.

picture of frank lloyd wright home in Minecraft

A Wright-inspired home built in Minecraft.

Art Interest

In fact, my younger son has shown an increase interest in artistic endeavors. He has been very interested in drawing and painting. This past spring, we made it halfway through this fabulous Craftsy course on colored pencils. Both of the boys sat and tried out the lessons before the pull of summer (and the pool) took over. At the present time, we’re diving more deeply into art, art history and various techniques, and I couldn’t be happier. I can’t wait to see what we do next.

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This is my attempt at recreating an autumn leaf using appropriate color-pencil blending techniques.

Marker Bots 2016

Today the kids made their own marker bots. They started with a single cell AA-battery, a broccoli band and a 3V motor. Once they figured out how to get the motor running, they grabbed a “marker bot body” and began to create. To see a more in-depth explanation, check out my previous “how-to” post on these cute scribbling machines. Otherwise, check out their drawing machines:

LED Embroidered Art

LED embroidered art

Lit up with LED Chibitronic stickers, conductive ink and some conductive thread.

Not surprisingly, I love art.

I love to make art. I love to draw, to paint, to sew, to embroider and to knit. I like to attend musicals and theater performances, and I loved tap dancing in college. But, like most people, my art is done on the side and usually done at home. It has changed mediums over the years – from drawing to sewing to knitting, but it’s always there. The creative side of my INFJ personality needs some sort of artistic outlet.

Thankfully, as I have delved more deeply into the study of robotics, programming and electronics, I see more ways to mesh art with simple technology. In fact, there was a whole field of study at MIT with a focus on high-tech and low-tech. How much fun do you think those grad students had?!

chibitronic and conductive ink

Using the Circuit Scribe conductive ink pen, I added a Chibitronic SMD LED sticker and a coin cell battery. Instant flow of electrons!

If you are in the Gainesville area, you may be interested in how UF students are combining art and science. A friend tuned me into this limited exhibit and I can’t wait to check it out.

LED Embroidered Art

As I was brainstorming samples for the upcoming Making in Action camp, I was messing around with a conductive ink pen and some leftover Chibitronic LED stickers. Voila! What if I hand-embroidered a picture and found a way to light it up?

First, I brainstormed something to embroider on card stock. I was inspired by fireworks, so I drew out the pattern and made sure to poke holes in the card stock (with my needle) before I tried to embroider. I also determined where I would put the LED lights. I knew I wanted them in the middle of my embroidered fireworks.

hand embroidered art

I used a Crewel size 12 needle and only 3 strands of embroidery floss.

Lately, embroidering has become a zen-like activity for me. I like the ease of use, and the accomplishment that I get from quickly finishing a piece.

B&W Hand-embroidered fireworks

I like how you can see the contrast of the colors in this black and white photo.

After I finished the embroidery, I started work on the LED lights. I knew I needed parallel circuits  to power the three LEDs, so I sketched out my circuit path onto another piece of cardstock. I made sure to mark where the LEDs would line up.

Then, after a little bit of testing and rummaging through my electronics stash, I came up with a Lilypad battery holder (with embedded on/off switch) and some conductive thread. After a failed attempt at soldering the thread to the conductive ink, I settled for a piece of Scotch tape.

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Place the LED card behind the embroidered card and enclose in a frame, making sure to allow the battery to be connected to the backside of the frame. That’s the purpose of the conductive thread. Hot glue the battery holder onto the back of the frame and your light-up LED embroidered art project is ready to display. Feel free to “wow” friends, in-laws, and hopefully, the parents of the kids you teach.

LED Embroidered Art - small

Lit up with LED Chibitronic stickers, conductive ink and some conductive thread.

a gift for his teacher

This year Ronan was enrolled in a local Montessori preschool. He went five mornings a week from 9-12, as part of Florida's Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program. He had a great experience – he enjoyed being there and it jumpstarted him with regards to combining letters to form words (CVC, for those Montessorians). It also allowed me some alone time with just Calum. It was wonderful to be able to give this time to Calum like I had given it to Ronan at that age. While I think there are some things that could use improvement (stricter adherence to the "snack" protocol and more Montessori materials), one of the things that we felt made his year a success was his teacher. She is patient and kind, but firm. She's always available to talk about concerns and she's genuinely excited about learning and that translates to the children. In short, I think she was a major contributor to his success this year. So, of course, we wanted to find a proper way to thank her.

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So, we made her a "thank you" book. While I would love to take credit for this lovely idea, I was merely the recipient of such a wonderfully crafted book when I was a Montessori teacher.  It made such a lasting impression on me, that three years later, I thought it would be the perfect gift to give to a wonderful teacher. A way to say thank you – in homemade fashion.

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Ronan and I both contributed to this book. I wanted to make sure she understood how important we felt her role was in Ronan's past year. It could have been a bad experience, but he excelled and enjoyed himself. (Plus, we tucked in some gift cards for good measure)!

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All of the artwork was done by Ronan (or me). We used sheets of cardboard (from the back of the construction paper collection) for the front and back pieces, which were then painted by Ronan. It was a quick project that we hope had a lasting impression.

 

birthday crowns

Among my our new family traditions is the very popular birthday crown. We started with Ronan's fourth birthday and it seems to be one of the easiest handmade birthday gifts to give (and make). It's simple, doesn't take up much space and is genuinely well-received (always nice for a handmade gift to be well-loved). Plus, I get to stretch my creative limits and consider the personality of the child and how the crown will be used. Each time I make one, I think it is my favorite. And, then another comes along. A recap of the past few months…

…delicate and full of brightness…

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…fit for a princess…

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…calm and playful (even with a bit of a cold).

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I love this picture – the boy, his crown and the action of a mind-blowing sneeze.